Home ODU rallies from big hole, scores three times in final two minutes to defeat Georgia State, 25-24
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ODU rallies from big hole, scores three times in final two minutes to defeat Georgia State, 25-24

Chris Graham

odu football ODU was down 21-0 at the half, and 24-14 inside of two minutes to go, but rallied to defeat Georgia State, 25-24, on Saturday, to earn the Monarchs’ sixth win, meaning, bowl eligibility.

Quarterback Grant Wilson, who was the backup at Fordham last season, scored the game-winner, a two-yard run up the middle, on the last play of the game.

ODU (6-6, 5-3 Sun Belt) trailed, 24-14, with less than two minutes remaining and scored 11 points in the final 1:37.

“I have no idea what bowl we’re going to, but we’re going to a bowl game,” said coach Ricky Rahne, whose team is bowl-eligible for the second time in three seasons.

ODU won’t find out its bowl destination until Sunday, Dec. 3, when ESPN makes its bowl announcements live.

ODU appeared listless in a first half that saw the Monarchs compile just 44 offensive yards and lose two of its defensive stars – LaMareon James and Jason Henderson – to injuries.

Rahne said the injuries, especially to James, who was on the field for about 15 minutes and taken off in a stretcher, hit the team hard emotionally.

“I think that explains a little bit of the first half,” Rahne said. “When you see your teammate on the ground like that, it has an effect on you. Especially when it is somebody as beloved as LaMareon.”

At halftime, Rahne walked around the locker room and said the same thing to every player dressed out.

“I made them look me in the eye and tell me they were going to win this game,” he said.

“One of our core values is character. So, I said to them, hey, a man of higher character is a man of his word, right? You guys told me you were going to win this game. So now you’ve got to go be men of your word. And they were,” Rahne said.

ODU trimmed the lead to 21-14 with some big plays – a 31-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Reymello Murphy and a 67-yard run from sophomore Obie Sanni late in the third and early in the fourth quarter.

But then Georgia State picked off a deflected Wilson pass, and with 10:18 left, Liam Rickman kicked a 22-yard field goal that expanded the Panther lead back to 24-14.

ODU appeared to be in deep trouble when Wilson was sacked on fourth down with 6:09 remaining and the Panthers still ahead by 10.

But ODU’s defense, which played well without Henderson and James in the second half, forced a three-and-out when ODU most needed it. With 4:37 left, the Monarchs began their comeback, driving deep into Georgia State territory.

With third and goal at the two, the Monarchs appeared to score on a toss run from Wilson to offensive lineman Chris Adams. Adams fell into the end zone, but the TD was wiped off the board by a facemask penalty against Adams.

After Wilson was sacked, Rahne sent the field goal unit quickly onto the field and Ethan Sanchez kicked a 37-yarder with trim to the lead to 24-17 with 1:37 left.

Georgia State was penalized for offsides on the kickoff, a squib kick, and then Sanchez squibbed the ball to the Georgia State 10.

Many in the crowd of 15,717 had left, but those remaining were standing and cheering.

ODU needed a miracle at that point to win. Wilson said he was kneeling on the sideline, “just praying to God for a miracle.” And his prayer was answered.

On first down, Monarch safety Tahj Ra-El tackled quarterback Darren Grainger at the 6. On the next play, Grainger was forced to leap to snag a high snap, and before he could take a step, was tackled in the end zone

Shawn Asbury and Terry Jones for a safety that narrowed the margin to 24-19 with 1:17 left.

Isiah Paige, who led ODU with 120 all-purpose yards, then gave the Monarchs good field position by returning the kickoff to the Georgia State 49.

On first down, Wilson tossed a bullet to Murphy, who was hauled down 43 yards later at the six.

“That was an NFL throw,” Rahne said. “He had to throw it perfectly.”

After three plays, ODU faced a fourth and goal at the 2. Rahne let the clock run down to two seconds before calling a timeout.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Decker then checked off the play he originally called and signaled Wilson to carry it up the middle.

Wilson was hit as he was going into the end zone but scored easily, causing ODU players and fans to run onto the field to celebrate.

It wasn’t as crowded as last season, when students poured onto the field after the Monarchs upset Virginia Tech. But the for the players, it was just as enjoyable.

“I wasn’t here last year for Virginia Tech, but man, it was a lot of fun,” Wilson said. “You didn’t know who was grabbing you or holding you and it didn’t matter.

“It’s so much fun being around these guys.”

The game began on a somber note Georgia State’s Jeremiah Johnson leveled James on a kickoff return with a helmet-to-helmet hit. A targeting penalty was called and then reversed after replay.

James was on the turf for about 15 minutes and was attended to by half a dozen medical and training stafff.

James underwent a battery of tests at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and was released from the hospital and on the field celebrating with his teammates at the end of the game.

Henderson, the All-American who leads the nation in tackling went out with far less drama later in the first half with a leg injury, but that was also a notable blow.

With Henderson and James out, defensive backs Nolan Johnson and Ashton Whitner had interceptions and linebacker Wayne Matthews had a career-high 16 tackles and Asbury, a safety, had 10.

“James was the first player I saw during my epic 16-second postgame speech,” Rahne said. “He was the first player I saw, which was awesome.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].